The beer can family and the poverty we can see

Roderick Benns


From my kitchen window I could see the two girls were about four and six years old.

They had just hopped out of a rusting, black Suzuki Esteem, circa 2001 maybe, making a beeline for our large recycling bin. 

The father was grey, unshaven and hunched as he swiftly followed them. The youngest eagerly picked up a pop can and the father slapped it out of her hand back into the bin.

I could see him pick up a green Steam Whistle can and it was clear that he was explaining to her that the beer can was the real goal.

The mother, who had been driving, moved more reluctantly to the curbside. She wore poor-fitting jeans and an old, dark t-shirt.

There were only a few beer cans and one wine bottle but the four of them ferreted the finds away into the trunk of their car and drove off, slowing at each blue bin along the way.

People talk about the ‘face’ of poverty all the time. In that instant, I saw four of them. They were real people, a family engaged in the unsavoury business of base-level survival in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth.

Should it be this way? Are we okay, as a society, knowing there are people foraging for tin cans to make enough money to eat or pay their rent? Are we okay knowing that we have institutionalized poverty?

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